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Evil Geek Book Report -Teenage Muntant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Volume 1

Like most children of the 1980’s I consumed all things Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles related.  The cartoon, the toys, the video games…pretty much anything I could get my hands on except the comic books. I was just a little too young to know that there was life before the animated kids show. When I found out that IDW acquired the comic book rights to the original Mirage Studio output I knew I had to get in there and check it out.

I started with the lavish Ultimate Edition Vol. 1 hardcover containing the first seven issues of the run plus the Micro-Series #1 – Raphael (a self-contained story that fits in between issues #3 and #4). The art is blown up and printed in its original black and white state and after each issue there is a write up by creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird discussing what was going on at that point in their publishing life. Plus, there’s almost a page by page write up about the art from the issue and the layouts. It’s a hefty ticket price of $50 dollars for 8 issues, but it’s a wealth of information.

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It was fun to read the turtles origin story in full and see what made the greater TMNT mythos in those first 4 or so issues. The complete homage to Daredevil was way more overt than I had expected and kind of cool. In the original Daredevil origin we have a young Matt Murdock pushing an old man out of the way of an oncoming truck; some canister falls of the truck and strikes him in the face blinding him. In the TMNT it’s the same set up, a young boy pushes an old man out of the way of a truck the canister strikes him in the face and then it falls and breaks a fishbowl a kid is carrying. The bowl contained 4 turtles that were catapulted down a manhole along with a rat and were effectively bathed in goo that was inside the canister. This of course turned them into the talking, walking up right turtles we know today.  It’s a nice little homage and twist.

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The Daredevil references don’t end there though. It’s clear Eastman and Laird appreciated the work of Frank Miller specifically on the title. Matt Murdock was trained by a ninja master named Stick and here we have Splinter as the turtle’s sensei. Miller introduced the mystical ninjas, The Hand and in TMNT’s world they are up against the Foot Clan. Not to mention the turtles prowling those NYC rooftops like Daredevil for no real reason. I love it.

Splinter and Shredder’s origin are in step with the original live action 1990 movie (way more than the animated series). In fact, most of that movie is lifted pretty faithfully from these comics. Splinter is and always was a rat that mimicked his master Hamato Yoshi’s ninjutsu training as part of the Foot. Yoshi and fellow Foot member Oroku Nagi both fought over the love of woman named Tang Shen. She only had feelings for Yoshi and when Nagi found this out he savagely beat her. Yoshi however, wouldn’t stand for this and killed Nagi with his bare hands. Fear the wraith of the Foot Yoshi and Tang moved to NYC. Eventually, Nagi’s brother Oroku Saki worked his way up the ranks of the Foot and became Shredder. He hunted down Yoshi and Tang and murdered them in cold blood.

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When Splinter later on becomes mutated he trains the TMNT in martial arts for the sole purpose of getting revenge on Shredder and murdering him. That is some dark, fucked up shit. What’s even crazier is that the Turtles kill Shredder in a rooftop battle by the end of the first issue. THE FIRST ISSUE. My mind was blown when I got to the end of it. Granted, he comes back later on in the series but I was shocked that the villain most associated with them bites the dust after 40 pages.

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The next few issues introduce more familiar elements. You get Baxter Stockman and the mousers along with April O’Neil right away in issue #2. Splinter is kidnapped (just like in the movie and/or the TMNT: The Arcade Game) then then micro-series introduces us to Casey Jones. I never realized (as explained by the creators) that he became a vigilante because he watched too many cop shows.

The 3rd issue ends masterfully when Splinter trapped in TRCI headquarters and he finds out these guards are basically robots with human husks and little krang like brains controlling them from their stomach cavity. It’s crazy because as weird as the actual mutated turtles are the series was kind of grounded by the fact that they are such an anomaly that when you see this, it’s like all bets are off. Shit is about to get real weird (and it does). It leads to interplanetary travel warring space factions and large triceratops aliens. This part of the series (issues #5-7) is definitely a little weird and a bit jarring. I must admit it’s pretty damn cool to see the turtles fire laser guns, but that’s just the kid in me. Everything does tie together by issue #7 and it significantly expands the TMNT origin and we find out who was behind the canister that mutated them.

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The story as a whole especially the first few issues seem to really lay out the blue print to the 1990 movie as well as some of the elements showing up in the TMNT: The Arcade game for the Nintendo. Retrospectively it’s kind of nice that they went back to the source material after the cartoon strayed so far away from it. The art as a whole is a bit amateurish for what I’m used to but it adds to the DIY nature of these books. Hell, early on I don’t think it’s much better than mine (link). As it progresses though you really get to watch Eastman and Laird grow. In the book they mentioned that they would both work on the same pages so that all the art had a combination of both of their styles which is a pretty interesting approach. Some of the layouts are so intricately detailed that it is a lot of fun to see in this size and really get to observe closely.

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I want to read more. Despite some of the bad dialogue and clichés, I found it really interesting to go back to the beginning where it all started. My main problem though is the price. I don’t think there’s truly a cheap way to read these stories. I don’t love paying $50 for 8 issues spread across 5 volumes. While these big hardcovers are cool for collectors, I just want access to the story. Softcovers with a lot more issues would be preferable. This might be blasphemy, but I actually prefer the colorized versions (which IDW does offer, but in same $50 hardcover style collection) which I just can’t justify.

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About Biff Tannen

Film Noir, Pulp, Comic Books and Hitchcock.

Posted on November 17, 2014, in COMICS!, Evil Geek Book Report, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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